published Monday, January 20th, 2014

Lady Mocs enjoy home court advantage

  • photo
    UTC guard Alex Black shoots during the Lady Mocs’ win against Wofford on Saturday. UTC is currently riding a 33-game home winning streak.
    Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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    UTC's Taylor Hall brings the ball up court in the game against Davidson Monday earlier this year at McKenzie Arena.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Unlike her fellow seniors, Ashlen Dewart has never lost a home game as a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball player. Yet, like those classmates, she has twice experienced the pain of defeat in McKenzie Arena.

It's just been a while for all parties.

UTC (15-3, 7-0) currently rides a 33-game home winning streak, which became the nation's longest when Baylor dropped a 66-55 decision to the University of Connecticut last Monday. During that streak, the Mocs have defeated three Southeastern Conference teams within the friendly confines -- none bigger than the 80-71 victory over the University of Tennessee Lady Vols on Nov. 9, 2012.

The Mocs also have an 11-game win streak and a 23-game Southern Conference win streak, all of which will be put to the test this afternoon in a 2 p.m. contest against Furman (10-7, 4-2). The home win streak wasn't something that the Mocs were concerned with.

"I was aware we were in second place. I knew Baylor won at home for several years, so I was in shock when they lost," senior Taylor Hall said. "I knew that we had handled our business at home, but those are games that we really need to win because it's hard to win on the road. This streak is exciting because it's not just conference games -- we've played some strong teams and beat them. We've got a consistent fan base that helps a lot and keeps us in the game, so it's not just a win for us, it's a win for them."

Dewart was a sophomore starter on the Appalachian State team that came into Chattanooga and gave the Mocs their last regular-season home loss, a 57-56 loss on Feb. 14, 2011. She had seven points and five rebounds in that game -- ruining what was her sister Bailey's Senior Night at UTC.

She attributed a reason of the streak to the fan base. The Moc women have an average attendance of 2,114 fans, almost four times as much as the closest program, Western Carolina.

"There's just such a great home environment, with great, loud fans that are supportive of us and into the games," Dewart said. "The student section is getting better and better every year, and the band is great. It's just an overall atmosphere that's so hard to come compete in. It's a little intimadating when you walk in to have a crowd like that boo you.

"It's always fun to play with a hostile crowd, but hard to play against. Our crowd definitely makes it hard for visitors to get a win."

UTC's average attendance is fourth out of all Southern Conference teams, men and women combined this season. The three teams that average more fans are all men's teams: Davidson (average attendance of 3,686), UTC's men (3,286) and UNC Greensboro (3,140). That sort of home-court advantage pays dividends when opponents come to McKenzie, as many opposing women's teams are accustomed to playing in front of somewhere between 300 and 500 fans. When Wofford came to town Saturday, the attendance was 2,186. The Lady Terriers' average attendance: 175.

UTC head coach Jim Foster stops short of attaching any significant importance to the team's streak.

"I don't put any thought into that -- it's wasted energy," he said. "It doesn't stand out at all; it's about what's next. You don't spend any time in those areas, because if you do, you're being foolish. I think we're all greatly appreciative that we have people in the bleachers, but the way I see it, players play. Those that make excuses make excuses, but players play.

"This streak means that you've got good players. It's the media's job to talk about it, and it's my job to get my players ready to play."

One thing is for sure, though: The team realizes that opponents coming to McKenzie Arena will be gearing for a shot to end the streak.

"We have high expectations here, that are even higher now with the streak," Hall said. "It shows that we've been a solid program for a long time, but we know that the target on our back is going to be bigger now."

Said Dewart: "We have a sense of pride defending our home court, like 'This is our house!" We don't look at it as having any extra weight on our shoulders; we just have to keep continuing to fight and prepare for each opponent."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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